Where did you grow up?
I was born in 1975 and raised in Calgary — this place is in my blood. As a teen I spent every summer and weekends throughout the school year working on a horse ranch northwest of Cochrane, training and doctoring horses, teaching riding lessons, competing in rodeos, getting into all sorts of good, clean trouble. I rode in the Calgary Stampede rodeo for many years as well, so it really doesn’t get more Calgarian than that!
When I moved to Toronto in 2010 to be with my partner, I had literal separation anxiety from the mountains and open skies. Honestly, I had panic attacks for the first few months because I felt so claustrophobic. That’s partly why we ended up buying a second home in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL). We ended up finding an 8-acre vineyard in NOTL with a fixer-upper home that I overhauled. It was my solace from the city, room to breathe. I have immense gratitude for that lovely jewel box of a community.
How did you make the move into the tech industry, what took you there? Why are you still here? You dabbled in AI and Machine Learning tech too, that’s on the forefront.
I’d worked in the oilpatch for many years in senior PR roles, first at Encana then Cenovus. Those were fantastic years and I was at the top of my game. But after living in the fast lane for a long time, I was craving more substance in my life. This was in the mid to late 2000s and I’d lost perspective on the bigger picture. Calgary’s a big city but a small town, you know? Especially if, like me, you were born and raised here. It was too easy to get caught up in the who’s who and all that jazz. I wanted anonymity and new faces.
As it happened, I met a gent from Toronto who had three daughters. He couldn’t make the move here, so away I went. I had an instant family — a new city, three stepdaughters, two ex-wives, a home in the city and a vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake —a whole new world to navigate. It was substance up the wazoo.
I found my way into a tech startup and became their first PR & Communications Manager. In four years, we grew from 25 people to 120 plus an office in Poland. We also started a lab for AI and machine learning. It was a crazy ride with an ultra-steep learning curve, but I was hooked. The energy and creativity in the tech world is hard to beat.
When the relationship with my partner ended in December 2015, I came back to Alberta and hoped to stay in the tech space. I was applying for jobs up and down the western seaboard — had two rounds of interviews with Google in the Valley, which were amazing and terrifying — and eventually found my way to the A100 in 2018. And I’m so glad I did! The tech space in Alberta right now has so much incredible innovation and opportunity, we need to run with it!
You are now an author of a book being released in June of this year. Tell us about the premise of your book?
I feel as though I’m too young to have written a memoir, but that’s exactly what it is. Friends and family have been saying for some time that I should write a book about my life experiences, because it’s been a pretty wild ride. So, I decided to go for it. My book is called “A Flawless Mistake: Tales from a beautiful life of colossal f*ckups” — which is a pretty good summary right there. (HK will share a pre-order link when available.)
I wrote it because I think it’s easy for many people to define themselves by the mistakes they’ve made — things they’ve done or had done to them. We create an identity around our mistakes (divorces, poor career choices, etc.) and play out a pattern of behaviours that revolve around those mistakes. It’s incredibly hard to hold up the mirror and be brutally honest with ourselves about how we might be contributing to the problem, and then even more difficult to do the hard work to change those patterns of behaviours.
But in the end, what we perceive to be some of our biggest mistakes are actually our most incredible gifts. If we pay attention and commit to actually learning from our mistakes (and let go of toxic patterns), we iterate on who we are. We improve and we grow. Ultimately, our mistakes can be a perfect conduit to being a better person.
I wanted to share my story to help other people feel less alone or strange about their own mistakes. I don’t know you, but I see you. I had an extraordinary gift of working with Dr. Wayne Dyer on Maui years ago and had the good fortune to have an encounter with his close friend, Ram Dass. He has a saying that I think is beautiful: “We’re all just walking each other home.” I love that, and it’s really so true.
If you were a woman in politics, what would your platform be?
I’ll be honest, I’ve always had a distaste for politics. I did my thesis on ethics in PR, so I’ll just leave that there. But given the state of the province and to a larger degree the world in general, there’s really no excuse to not be involved anymore — with information and a voice, at the very least.
I am firmly and ardently a social liberal. 100%. So, when it comes to gender equality, reproductive rights, LGBTQ identity and expression, Indigenous rights and issues, etc. — my beliefs are squarely on the left.
I already mentioned the necessity of diversifying Alberta’s economy. It’s not a luxury, it’s an imperative. It’s interesting to observe so many people mobilizing and using their voices right now, I’m thrilled to see that. There are a lot of discussions and advocacy happening on behalf of other industries in Alberta and I’m optimistic that those collective voices will be heard. These discussions are happening around everything from skills training and upgrading, access to talent, investment incentives, and more.
To be perfectly blunt, it’s time to have a fucking vision and try something new. Peter Lougheed was a visionary in the 1970s when it came to the oilsands. So, what’s next? I might be biased but I think tech is that opportunity, that vision. In my opinion, we will never, ever see a boom like we had in the past. Did you know that Texas has now taken the lead over California as the largest exporter of tech in the U.S.? Texas!! Chew on that one for a minute. The world has changed, and we need to change with it. Change, or become obsolete.
Why are you so committed to your province? What does the future of Alberta look like? What are your predictions?
My great-grandfather homesteaded east of Medicine Hat in 1913 and, as farmers and ranchers to this day, my family in that region are some of the last remaining freehold landowners in the province.
Both of my parents worked in the oilpatch for the entirety of their careers and I witnessed firsthand the ups and downs of the oil and gas economy over the ages. I saw how brutal it was for my parents in the 1980s and, if you’ve lived through extreme busts, those things leave a mark. To be clear, I’m a fiercely proud fourth-generation Albertan and Canadian. I literally have the blood, sweat and tears of this province in my blood and bones. But it’s critical that we diversify. My parents knew it 30 years ago, but for some reason this province has been turning a relative blind eye. We’ve needed to get on that path for the last few decades and have been far too slow to understand, accept, and put the programs and policies in place to make that happen.
My great-grandfather believed deeply in the prosperity potential of Alberta — a belief passed down to me through the generations. Inherently, I still believe in the future of this province, and we need to be genuinely forward-thinking if we’re going to make this a place for the next generations of Albertans to thrive. It’s not too late. But we need leaders with the courage, vision and open-mindedness — just like the early homesteaders of a hundred years ago — to bear down, do the gritty work and take action towards change for the better.
As a woman have you ever encountered your own #metoo? Can you share your story and additionally, what is your advice to all women in these situations?
Oh wow, too many times to count. It’s a sad state of affairs to be able to say that without a second thought. But I reckon nearly every single woman out there has a story or two.
I’ve had boyfriend’s clients whisper vile propositions in my ear with their wives sitting right beside me. Early in my career I worked with a team of salesmen who treated me like a secretary from “Mad Men”. I have #metoo stories about a former President of the United States and a beloved world-famous billionaire (you can read about them in my book).
I remember an event for clients of the PR agency I worked for ages ago, and one of the top-shelf clients struck up a conversation with me and a colleague. He started suggesting something untoward, which my colleague valiantly tried to deflect. His response was, “Don’t you know? Anything for the client.” It was shocking and humiliating, and I was enraged. But being the lowest on the totem pole, I just awkwardly laughed it off.
I think we’ve all been in situations where someone says or does something so shocking and inappropriate that we’re completely caught off guard. I mean, are you fucking kidding me? And more often than not it’s a deer-in-the-headlights moment. Afterwards we kick ourselves for all that we could’ve, should've said.
Business environments can be particularly complicated to navigate. These days I think one of the best responses to a verbal situation is to ask someone to repeat themselves. As in, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” If they say it again, one of two things will happen: they’ll think you’re recording them and they’ll recant, or they’ll hear themselves being an absolute fool. Either way, you’ve said nothing out of the ordinary, but you’ve most definitely made your point.
We were shocked to hear your age Tamara; we know that’s a cliché statement and sometimes very tiresome but tell us your secret (still shocked).
Oh my goodness, that’s so kind, thank you. I just turned 45 and I find that absolutely hilarious. Time flies when you’re having a blast! Seriously though, however young or old I look, I do think genes have a lot to do with it. I’m biracial (my biological father was black), and I suspect some added melanin is a plus. But my mom and maternal grandmother have beautiful skin, so I think it runs in the family.
I will say that I’ve never really bought into the concept of ageing. Just because I’ve had a certain number of laps around the sun doesn’t mean I have to look or dress or act a certain way. I truly do believe that our physical state is a reflection of our state of mind.
But if had to get into the nuts and bolts of my day-to-day, I’m hooked on Korean skincare, specifically the Cosrx line. I also do the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta peel once a week followed by a sheet mask from Innisfree (another Korean brand) because they’re fun and feel heavenly on Alberta-parched skin. I should be so much more diligent about sunscreen, but I have sensitive skin and there are few that don’t cause me to break out if I wear it daily. And though I’ve always had freckles, I don’t wear foundation because it makes me feel like I’m wearing a balaclava. So, I just let my freckle flag fly!
What do you think is the biggest opportunity for diversity in all things; our communities, our businesses, etc.?
I think demonstrating visible diversity is a key opportunity: gender, race, age. Even down to design and architecture in the context of communities. The visible differences between employees, residents, homes, businesses — that’s what makes communities interesting and thrive, because we’re more aware of the people and environment around us, more supportive and hopefully collaborative.
You spoke of taking time off for healing in our interview. What about that journey would you like to share with our readers?
I moved out to Toronto in 2010 and became a stepmom to three little girls, aged 3, 5 and 9 at the time. It was a difficult transition, but I grew to adore those kids. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. When the relationship with my partner ended in December 2015, I literally lost everything: my homes, my job, my new circle of friends, and those kids. The worst night of my life was tucking them into bed for the last time.
So, I came back to Alberta at the end of 2015 with nothing. We weren’t legally married, so I wasn’t entitled to any of our assets, even though the entirety of my six-figure income had gone towards supporting our family, homes, and lifestyle. I had no money, no job, no family. I was 40 years old and moving back in with my parents. Not ideal in any scenario.
However, the six months I spent with them turned out to be a deeply profound gift. There were days when the grief was so overwhelming that I couldn’t get out of bed. Being with my parents during that time was a soft place to land, and I had space to grieve and heal while also being cared for.
But I also had the opportunity to experience my parents as people, not just mom and dad. I saw them through the lens of an adult having had my own life experiences, and I came to understand them in ways I never had before. I observed their social lives and hobbies, their relationship with each other and as individuals, and how much all of that had changed since I was last under their roof. It was really extraordinary, and looking back, I cherish that time I had with them. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
You are the executive director of the A100. Can you tell us a bit about that organisation, what its mandate is and who its members are?
The A100 is a large group of Alberta CEOs and founders who have built, scaled and exited their own tech companies, and who now give of their time and experience mentoring and advising to grow the next generation of Alberta tech entrepreneurs. It’s such a wonderful organization and I’m consistently impressed by the genuine desire to collaborate and help grow the tech ecosystem in this province.
Has there been any point in your life that caused you to completely change course, for better or worse? But wait, you did mention to us that mistakes can be positive. Why is that?
Certainly, uprooting myself from my corporate job in Calgary to make a new life in a new city and new industry — that was a huge and intensely challenging pivot. But at the end of the day, even though that life didn’t pan out, it was so worth it. I got to be a stepmom, made some wonderful friends, learned the tech space, travelled the world. Most importantly, I really learned who I was and what I was made of. It was a beautiful mistake.
We were at a healing energy workshop this weekend and one of the healers said, “Be really selfish, what is on your want list?” But we had to be able to say it either came to be or not. We were encouraged to make a list of 20 – not fucking kidding. 20. What would be on your list?
That’s a tricky one. Pragmatic or fantastical? Maybe both.
I want to retire in Tofino because I’m a Pisces and my heart’s drawn to the ocean (plus my hair and skin love it there!).
I want to have a good-sized nest egg.
I want to never have to say goodbye to my parents.
I want to be a better surfer.
I want to see gender parity in my lifetime.
I want my book to resonate with someone and help them through their day.
I want free highlights and blowdrys for the rest of my life.
I want Mama Earth to have a chance to heal.
I want to have a backyard so I can BBQ and play bocci.
I want plain gold Cartier Love bracelet.
I want to see Turkey again.
I want my upstairs neighbours to not stay up until 2am all the damn time.
I want there to be no such thing as cancer, domestic and sexual violence, racism.
I want the ability to time travel.
I want the superpower of being able to nap anytime, anywhere.
I want to see Ben Howard live in concert. (YES!)
I want to stay at the Ett Hem Hotel in Stockholm. (we love Scandi too!)
I want a Yonanas machine (we had to look up!)
I want a rewrite of the last season of Game of Thrones.
I want a piece of my mom’s double layer chocolate cake with raspberry jam filling and chocolate whipped cream icing. Daily.
If you wanted to design an experience for women, and surround yourself with inspiring friends, allies, champions, what would that experience look like?
It would probably be on an island, with the water nearby. I’d want to learn from women sharing their stories — personal and professional. I’d want to eat amazing food, drink some great wine, adventure, exercise, have quiet time to myself. I’ve never had a huge group of girlfriends, and those I do have now are few but very dear. I curate and edit my relationships frequently. There’s no room in my life for drama! But as I get more life experience under my belt, I find I’m more open to other women. I crave the learning and wisdom that other women can impart. We ALL have a story, and I’m ready to listen.
What are your fav HK pieces?
I’m thrilled with my Morocco Chemise — absolutely love it everything about it. Every time I’ve worn it, I get so many compliments! And I know I’m going to have to get the Florence Slip Dress as well, it’s totally my jam.